A bill that would limit local police cooperation with federal immigration officials earned a favorable committee report on Wednesday, marking what the head of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition called a "major step forward for immigrants."
"This is a matter of public health and public safety, and it means the world that the Massachusetts Legislature is recognizing it as such," MIRA President and CEO Eva Millona said. "We hope we can count on leadership in both chambers to advocate strongly for this bill's passage now. It's time for everyone in our Commonwealth to feel safe seeking help when they need it."
The Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Rep. Harold Naughton and Sen. Michael Moore, advanced the bill, which supporters call the Safe Communities Act. The Senate version (S 1401), filed by Sen. Jamie Eldridge, is pending in the Senate clerk's office, while Rep. Ruth Balser and Rep. Liz Miranda's bill (H 3573) was sent to the House clerk's office. Both bills are likely to be assigned now to another committee.
The legislation would bar police and court officers from inquiring about someone's immigration status, and would stop them from notifying federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement about someone's impending release from custody unless they were finishing a criminal sentence.
Recent advocacy for the bill has focused on the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on immigrant communities. Clergy and medical groups wrote to lawmakers raising concerns that immigrants may not seek needed medical care out of fear that they or their loved ones might face deportation.
The bill did not make it out of the Public Safety Committee last session. The Senate in 2018 voted 25-19 to add similar immigration enforcement language to its budget, and that measure did not survive talks with the House, where Speaker Robert DeLeo had said he didn't see consensus on the issue.